Among others, two thoughts I’ve had while spending time in this sermon:
It would be easy to see how so many in our context will have misunderstood this sermon, and Edwards, if they didn’t attend to its actual meaning carefully. The expression “being in an angry God’s hands” is actually meant as something positive for the sinner, as Edwards uses it. Why? Because it is the very “hands” of this God who otherwise has every right to damn the unregenerate person that keeps them from immediately entering that fate. It is the very God who rightfully abhors you in your sin that nonetheless is forebearing with you to this very hour. As Edwards argues in the sermon (his thesis, if you will), “There is nothing that keeps wicked people at any given moment out of hell except the mere pleasure of God.” For all the talk of God’s anger towards sin, it’s meant to point us to God’s forbearance and his offer of mercy in Christ.
Secondly, Edwards’ descriptions of God’s wrath undoubtedly will rub against our current contemporary sentiments, where we don’t like to think that God is angry with sinners; or if God were to be angry towards the unsaved, that would be reflective of some sort of defect in him. (This probably has something also to do with our loss of the doctrine of divine simplicity, which results in us thinking of certain of God’s attributes pitted against others–but that’s another topic.) However, Edwards doesn’t care about our contemporary sentiments. He presents God’s righteous indignation with sin in unbridled, blunt terms–language I imagine many of us will question or find abrasive, but which is only indicative of the fact that we need to hear it. We’re apt to soften the holiness of God. Edwards’ isn’t. But for as stark as Edwards gets, even he admits: it’s probably not stark enough; he’s really only scratching the surface of God’s ineffable holy hatred of sin.
“Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:3-4)
Lead a group of men in my church through this book. A lot of them found the initial chapters a bit more difficult to weigh through. I would agree that part 1 felt more polemical, and could feel a bit more technical or abstract for those less familiar with this sort of writing or subject matter. However, part 2 seems to take a shift in tone. In these latter chapters especially, one of the things I appreciated about this book was the doxological tone and orientation naturally woven throughout. As I read, I found myself experiencing gratitude to God and standing in awe of Christ. I believe this book originally came out of a series of lectures Murray delivered (?). And it certainly reads like that. It feels a bit different in that way from other systematic treatments of soteriology. Very insightful and well done.
“Practice is the most proper evidence of trusting in Christ for salvation. The proper signification of the word trust, according to the more ordinary use of it, both in common speech and in the Holy Scriptures, is the emboldening and encouragement of a person’s mind, to run some venture in practice, or in something that he does, on the credit of another’s sufficiency and faithfulness. And therefore the proper evidence of his trusting, is the venture he runs in what he does. He is not properly said to run any venture in a dependence on any thing, who does nothing on that dependence, or whose practice is no otherwise than if he had no dependence. For a man to run a venture in dependence on another, is for him to do something from that dependence, by which he seems to expose himself, and which he would not do were it not for that dependence. And therefore it is in complying with the difficulties and seeming dangers of christian practice, in a dependence on Christ’s sufficiency and faithfulness to bestow eternal life, that persons are said to venture themselves upon Christ, and trust in him for happiness and life. They depend on such promises as that, Matt. 10:39. ‘He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’ And so they part with all, and venture their all, in a dependence on Christ’s sufficiency and truth. And this is the scripture notion of trusting in Christ, in the exercise of a saving faith in him. Thus Abraham, the father of believers, trusted in Christ, and by faith forsook his own country, in a reliance on the covenant of grace which God established with him, Heb. 11:8, 9.”
~ Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, III.XIV.
John Stott, Basic Christianity– Details the essential claims of Christianity and the salvation we as Christians claim we both need and can find in Christ; a valuable resource for those exploring Christianity to use alongside reading through one of the Biblical gospel accounts, such as Mark.
Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? – Surveys the basics of the Gospel—the good news about how we can be saved due to what Jesus has done through his cross and resurrection; valuable for both outreach as well as gaining personal clarity on the gospel. We recommend at least working through chapters 2-5.